Everything you need to know about notifications on the Apple Watch

BY Kelly Hodgkins

Published 27 Apr 2015

Things Apple Watch app

One of the primary features of the Apple Watch is its notification system that sends alerts from your iPhone to your wrist. Because incoming alerts can now appear on the Watch, iPhone owners can keep their phones stored safely in a bag or pocket, while they communicate via the wrist-worn device. These Watch-based alerts are a huge benefit for people traveling, exercising or engaging in outdoor water sports. We have spent a lot of time interacting with notifications, read on to find out how they work and how you can configure them so you get the most important information on your wrist. 

Configuring Notifications

Before you start receiving notifications on your Watch, you should spend a few minutes configuring the settings for the iPhone and the Watch so you can receive the most important alerts right away. It’s a two-step process with notifications being configured in both the iPhone’s settings and the Apple Watch app on the iPhone.

Since the iPhone generates the notifications that appear on the Watch, the first step in setting up Watch notifications is specifying which apps on the iPhone are generating notifications in the first place. Open the iOS Settings app and then tap “Notifications” to view of list of available apps and their notification settings. If necessary, review each app to make sure it is configured to generate notifications on the iPhone so you can receive them on the Watch. You may not have to make any changes in this area as you likely already setup notifications on your iPhone, but it is worth reviewing in case you haven’t reviewed these settings in a while.

Once your iPhone is configured, you can turn your attention to the Watch and determine how it will receive the notifications generated by the iPhone. To configure notifications on the Watch, open the Watch app on your iPhone and go to My Watch > Notifications. Here you will see all the notification options available to Watch owners. At the top is a setting that allows you to turn off the red notification indicator that appears at the top of your screen when you have unread alerts. There’s also a notification privacy option that hides alert details until you click on the alert. This is helpful if you want to keep your message details safe from prying eyes near you.
Underneath these two toggle buttons is a list of all available notifications. The list is broken into two sections with the Apple notifications appearing first. By default, most of these notifications are set to mirror the iPhone, but you can change the settings if you want a different set of alerts for the Watch. Just select “Custom” and designate how the alerts will be sent to the Watch. Available options for these custom notifications varies according the app, for example, the Calendar allows you to toggle individual alerts for invitations, shared calendars, upcoming events and more. Other apps, such as Maps, have custom notification settings that you can change. For example, Maps has one setting that allows you to disable turn-by-turn vibrating alerts when you are using your iPhone and Watch for navigation.

The second list contains all the third-party app notifications, which are mirrored from your iPhone. You can enable or disable notifications on a per-app basis, but you don’t have granular control over the individual alerts like you do with the stock apps. Even though control is limited to on/off, it is handy to be able to turn off alerts on the Watch. I don’t mind receiving Facebook Messenger alerts on my iPhone, but I don’t want all those notifications being sent to my Watch.

Responding to Notifications

Notifications arrive on the Apple Watch immediately along with a chime and a tap on the wrist. You can read each notification right away by raising your Apple Watch to view it. When viewing the notification, you can use the Digital Crown to scroll to the bottom and select an action such as “Reply” or “Dismiss.” You also can tap the app icon at the top of a message to open the originating app. The ability to respond to a notification or open the originating app varies depending on the source app and whether it has a Watch companion. For example, I can easily interact with notifications from Messages and third-party apps like Things, but a Gmail notification is read only as the Gmail app does not have a Watch app.


If you can’t respond to a notification right away, the Watch will store it for you to review at a later time. When you have an outstanding unread message, the Watch will display a small red dot at the top of the screen. Swipe downward to open the notifications and use either the digital crown or touchscreen to scroll through the available alerts. If you need to read or respond to an alert, simply touch it to open it and view the available options such as “Reply” or “Dismiss.” You also can swipe to the right and select clear.

Deleting Unread Notifications

The Watch will automatically remove all alerts that you read from the Notifications panel. You also can manually remove an alert entry by swiping left to right, then tapping “Clear.” To clear all notifications at once, press and hold the display, and then tap “Clear All.”


Apple Watch in some ways is the new Notification Center for your iPhone. But you’ll find it a lot more useful, and will save you the trouble of removing your iPhone from your pocket or bag. Apple seems to have nailed it with the seamless integration of Notifications between the iPhone and Apple Watch, along with the taptic engine, that gives you subtle vibrations when you get a new alert and the unread Notification status icon. These features make it one of the killer features of the Apple Watch. We hope that features such as “Clear All” (thanks to Force Touch) and Status icons make it to the iPhone in iOS 9.

If you want to learn more about the Apple Watch, you can view additional tutorials on our Apple Watch Tips and Tricks page and our Watch Help page. If you have an area you would like to see covered in this ongoing series of Watch tutorials or have discovered your own handy tips or tricks, please share them in the comments.